Thursday, June 23, 2016
The Washington State Supreme Court today held that a convicted juvenile defendant who continued to maintain his innocence can be compelled to write a letter of apology to the victim.
A letter of apology demonstrates a recognition and acceptance of responsibility for harmful actions. Such a condition is reasonably necessary for K.H.-H. to recognize what he did was wrong and to acknowledge his behavior.
Additionally, an apology letter recognizes the victim's interest in receiving an apology from the perpetrator. An apology allows the victim to hear an acceptance of responsibility from the very person who inflicted the harm. This is particularly important where both the victim and perpetrator are juveniles, and demonstrates to both the significance of giving and receiving an apology for wrongful acts. This further advances the rehabilitative goals of the statute.
The outward manifestation of accepting and apologizing for the consequences of one's actions is a rehabilitative step that attempts to improve K.H.-H.'s character and outlook. Such a condition is reasonably related to the purpose of K.H.-H. 's rehabilitation and the crime here.
One must face the consequences of a conviction, which often include the loss or lessening of constitutional rights. There is a whole range of constitutional rights that can be affected by a conviction, not the least of which is a loss of liberty. There may be a limitation on the degree to which First Amendment rights may be restricted for those convicted of crimes, but an apology letter condition does not approach that limit. We affirm.
There is a dissent from Justice McCloud
The juvenile court's forced apology condition fails under any First Amendment test other than the majority's highly deferential, rational-relationship test borrowed from language in Clark. Under the Supreme Court's test in Martinez, the government cannot restrict the content of a prison inmate's speech in this context unless the restriction "further[ s] an important or substantial governmental interest" and is narrowly tailored so that it infringes on "no greater [speech] than is necessary or essential to the protection of the particular governmental interest involved." 416 U.S. at 413. The compelled confession and apology in this case fails that narrow tailoring requirement. Under the test we articulated in Bahl, the condition must be '"reasonably necessary to accomplish the essential needs of the state and public order."' Bahl, 164 Wn.2d at 757 (internal quotations marks omitted) (quoting Riley, 121 Wn.2d at 37-38). The compelled confession and apology in this case fails that requirement also. In fact, under controlling Supreme Court precedent, compelled speeches and pledges are probably the worst ways to teach remorse or anything else: "A person gets from a symbol the meaning he puts into it, and what is one man's comfort and inspiration is another's jest and scorn." Barnette, 319 U.S. at 632-33. I respectfully dissent.